Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nigerian women are coming of age

Congratulations are in order for our Super Falcons. In further celebration of Nigeria’s golden jubilee independence anniversary, the senior female national football team on November 14 2010, at Sinaba Stadium in South Africa reclaimed the African Women’s Championship with a 4-2 victory over Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea. The win makes it a record 6th time the Super Falcons will win the trophy out of the 7 editions of the soccer competition. By this feat, the Super Falcons alongside their Guinean counterpart have booked tickets to the next FIFA Women’s World Cup coming up in Germany in 2011. The Nigerian female soccer team is said to be the only one in the championship whose head coach is a woman. The coach, Eucharia Uche, is herself a former Falcon player.

It did not end there. It was as if the tournament was organised to honour Nigeria as our ladies, apart from winning the trophy and gold medal as the champions of the soccer fiesta also won the Fair Play Award. Perpetua Nkwocha equally won the Golden Boot as the top scorer with 11 goals while her team mate, Stella Mbachu won the Most Valuable Player Award. Desire Ugochi Oparanozie also grabbed the final match best player award. This exploit is heart warming considering the fact that Super Eagles, which is the male senior national team had not given Nigerian football fan a lot to cheer in recent years. While the Super Falcons have won the female nations cup a record six times, their male counterparts have only won Africa Cup of Nations twice in 1980 and 1994.

At the XIX Commonwealth Games held in Delhi, India from 3 – 14 October, 2010, Nigerian female athletes shone like a million stars and posted superb performance. They won 22 of the 35 total medals hauled by Nigeria. These are 7 gold, 7 silver and 8 bronze medals to put Nigeria in the 9th position at the Games. Yet, despite the sterling feat of Nigerian female footballers and indeed athletes at all levels, their achievements have been greatly underappreciated. The bias against female sports was again on display when the Nigeria sporting authority and marketers could not find sponsor for live telecast of the female football championship. If it were to be the Super Eagles playing a major tournament or ordinary friendly match, it will be broadcast live. Also, on arrival, the ladies were transported in an articulated vehicle meant for transporting animals and farm produce. This is unfair to our female sportswomen.

As it is in sports, so it is in the socio-economic and political life of our motherland. Women are perennially relegated to the background. Hitherto, they battle a lot of socio-cultural barriers in their homes and families. In the northern part of Nigeria, the girl child education is still an issue, as some parents do not deem it fit to send their daughters to school. How then can Nigeria achieve universal primary education which is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals? Another MDG goal is the promotion of gender equality and women empowerment, how have we fared here as well? The 2007 National Gender Policy stipulates 35 percent appointive and elective positions for women by 2015. Nigeria is still lagging behind in the attainment of this goal. Since 1985 when Nigeria ratified the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), our parliamentarians are yet to domesticate it thus paving way for all sorts of discriminatory practices against women to go unpunished. Nigeria was actively part of the Beijing Platform of Action in 1995, 15 years down the line; progress is still painfully slow on the attainment of all the resolutions. It is true that Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution in section 42 espoused the right to freedom from discrimination, however, in practice; it is an open secret that women are being discriminated against. Patriarchy still holds sway while male chauvinism is in full display.

In the ongoing legal alteration, all the noble recommendations of the Electoral Reform Committee favourable to women were roundly jettisoned by our lawmakers during the process leading up to the constitutional and electoral law amendment. These include the recommendations for proportional representation. Others include the proposal that in the composition of INEC Board and the Political Party Registration and Regulatory Commission the Chair and the Deputy Chair should not be of the same gender. At least one third of the 774 Local Government Electoral officers was proposed to be women. ERC also suggested that in addition to the existing provisions of the 1999 constitution and Electoral Act on registration of parties, associations seeking to be registered shall maintain 20% women in the membership of all its governing bodies.

It is not all bad news for women though. I admit that efforts are on to systematically address the marginalization of women and reverse the harmful cultural practices against them. Every March 8 is recognized as International Women’s Day meant to celebrate the socio-economic and political achievements of women globally. Nigerian government also set up a full- fledged Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development. Many states have similarly carved out ministry to attend to women issues. It is also worth noting that the current administration has been making conscious effort to appoint more women into key government positions. At present, the National Economic Adviser to the President is a woman; likewise the Director General of Bureau of Public Enterprises, Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs, the Comptroller General of Immigration and the recently-appointed Executive Secretary of NEITI. Eight out of the about 42 cabinet ministers and three of the 12 national commissioners in INEC are also women. All these appointments are worth celebrating and I do hope the president will engage more women in key government Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

As we prepare for the 2011 polls, and as political parties organize their primaries, I appeal that more women should be elected party candidates. Having women in appointive positions is good but having more women elected into political offices is better. I look forward to the day Nigeria will have her first elected governor, and indeed president like Brazil just did. Meanwhile, let’s celebrate our female soccer heroines and indeed all female achievers as we do their male counterparts. And for Super Falcons, they should be supported to make a good impact in the 2011 World Cup in Germany.